A former Victorian magistrate who made headlines for dating a much younger court clerk has spoken out, almost two years after her sudden death.
The relationship between Rodney Higgins, 68, and Ashleigh Petrie raised eyebrows when it became public in 2019 after the grandfather of eight proposed on a 10-day holiday to Fiji.
Just days after their relationship emerged, Ms Petrie, 23, died when she was hit by a car in Metung, in Victoria’s rural East Gippsland on October 28.
According to reports at the time, court officials had reportedly received complaints about Ms Petrie regularly entering the magistrate’s chambers and trying to use his reserved car space.
Mr Higgins, who retired recently, has given an interview to the Nine Network’s A Current Affair. He told the show he was heartbroken that people had been “hurt” but said there was no power imbalance in relationship with Ms Petrie.
“I just am sorry that a lot of people have been hurt out of this,” he said.
“The impression, if you like, was Ashleigh worked with me in court, and that I had some sort of hold on her.
“That’s completely untrue, we never, ever worked together.”
There was further controversy in June this year, when The Age newspaper revealed that Mr Higgins had pocketed $180,000 from Ms Petrie’s life insurance and her superannuation.
It came despite Ms Petrie’s mother being nominated as the beneficiary of both funds.
Mr Higgins, who recently retired as a magistrate, tells A Current Affair that authorities believed he deserved the money.
“They think I deserve 100 per cent of it,” he said.
Rest Superannuation had ruled Mr Higgins should get the payment, under the Superannuation Industry Act.
Mr Higgins tells A Current Affair his work had told him to call Rest to alert it that Ms Petrie had died.
“They said, ‘What’s your relationship to her?’ I said, ‘I’m her fiance, we live together.’ They said, ‘We will send you paperwork, fill it out and send it back.’ And that was it,” he said.
Ms Petrie’s mother is fighting the decision, which is the subject of an appeal before the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
In June, a spokesman for Rest Super said they could not comment on the specifics of Ms Petrie’s case because of privacy.
Ms Petrie’s death in 2019 came five weeks after Mr Higgins popped the question.
“It started with a crush and now I have a ring on my finger,” Ms Petrie said on Instagram.
“The love of my life asked me to marry him and I said YESSSS. What an amazing 10 days it has been here in Fiji! I arrived as Rod’s girlfriend and I leave as [Mr Higgins’] fiancée!
“I cannot wait to become Mrs Higgins.”
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